Capsules: Giants vs. Tigers

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Capsules: Giants vs. Tigers

GIANTS-TIGERS CAPSULE

KEY FACTS:
Tigers: 88-74 (AL Central champions; defeated As 3-2 in ALDS, defeated Yankees 4-0 in ALCS)
Giants: 94-68 (NL West champions; defeated Reds 3-2 in NLDS, defeated Cardinals 4-3 in NLCS)
Runs per game, regular season: Giants 4.43 (6th in NL), Tigers 4.48 (6th in NL)
Runs per game, postseason: Giants 4.42, Tigers 4.00
Runs allowed per game, regular season: Tigers 4.14 (5th in AL), Giants 4.01 (6th in NL)
Runs allowed per game, postseason: Giants 3.42, Tigers 1.89
Fielding percentage, regular season: Tigers .983 (9th in AL), Giants .981 (13th in NL)
Fielding percentage, postseason: Tigers .988, Giants .986.

PROJECTED GAME ONE LINEUPS
Angel Pagan, CF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Buster Posey, C
Hunter Pence, RF
Brandon Belt, 1B
Gregor Blanco, LF
Brandon Crawford, SS
Barry Zito, P

Austin Jackson, CF
Andy Dirks, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, LF
Alex Avila, C
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Omar Infante, 2B
Justin Verlander, P

Starting Rotation:
Barry Zito, LHP
Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Ryan Vogelsong, RHP
Matt Cain, RHP

Justin Verlander, RHP
Doug Fister, RHP
Anibal Sanchez, RHP
Max Scherzer, RHP

STACKING THEM UP:
ROTATION
After sweeping the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers had the luxury to set their starting rotation for the World Series. It was a no-brainer to assign reigning American League MVP and Cy Young award-winner Justin Verlander in Game One. He is 3-0 in this postseason with only two runs allowed in 24 13 innings, both on solo homers. Coco Crisp took him deep to start the ALDS and Eduardo Nunez went yard in the ninth inning in his third playoff start. Verlander is a physical beast who easily exceeds over 120 pitches and throws harder as the game goes on. So theres less advantage in trying to drive up his pitch count. This is a high-whiff staff. Verlander (239) and Game 4 starter Max Scherzer (231) finished 1-2 in the majors in strikeouts, and Game 2 starter Doug Fister struck out nine consecutive batters to set an American League record on Sept. 27. Tigers starting pitchers only allowed two runs in 27 innings while sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS. While Verlander garners most of the attention, Game 3 starter Anibal Sanchez is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in five career starts against the Giants and that includes a 0.36 ERA in three victories at AT&T Park, where hed be lined up to pitch a Game 7.

The Giants rotation enters with momentum, after Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain held the Cardinals to one run over three consecutive games to mount their second stirring comeback in a postseason series. In fact, Giants pitchers combined for three RBIs to just one for the Cardinals over those three games. But the Giants arent as well rested as the Tigers, and they cannot pitch their playoff ace, Vogelsong (2-0, 1.42 ERA in three stats), until Game 3. Zito is an unforeseen yet inspired choice to start Game 1, after his 7 23 shutout innings at Busch Stadium comprised the greatest night of his career and forced the NLCS back to San Francisco. His average fastball is 12 mph lower than Verlanders, but he sets it up with a curve, slider, changeup and cutter that keep hitters on their front foot when they are well located. When he is over-amped, though, as he was in Game 4 at Cincinnati, Zito has trouble throwing strikes. Bumgarner was pulled from the NLCS rotation after going 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA on the heels of a poor September. But because Giants manager Bruce Bochy wants to keep Tim Lincecum in a valuable swingman role in the bullpen, Bumgarner gets another shot. He tried to fix an over-rotating issue in his delivery that affected both his stamina and his ability to spot pitches. The Tigers are more prone to lefties, so that might help Zito and Bumgarner in the first two games. Although Cain has won two winner-take-all games already this postseason, hell only start once in this series. His fastball was up against the Cardinals and Vogelsong was deemed to have much more left in the tank, should the Giants and Tigers go to a Game 7.
EDGE: Tigers

BULLPEN
If the Tigers have an Achilles heel it could be their bullpen. Fortunately for them, their starting pitchers usually go deep into games. Detroit's relievers have a 3.92 ERA in the postseason and its anybodys guess how manager Jim Leyland will navigate the ninth inning. Jose Valverde has been wildly inconsistent in the playoffs, having allowed seven runs in three games. With Valverde ineffective, the Tigers will likely stick with a closer by committee. Left-hander Phil Coke was very hittable in the regular season (71 hits in 54 innings), but hes been used in more leveraged situations in the playoffs. Right-hander Joaquin Benoit allowed 14 home runs a whopping amount for a relief pitcher.

The Giants bullpen allowed a total of just two runs in their six elimination victories and relievers are 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in the postseason. Jeremy Affeldt is unscored upon in eight appearances this postseason and has a 1.53 ERA in 20 career playoff games. Javier Lopez has faced 473 batters in a Giants uniform and allowed exactly one home run. The sidearm lefty will be more of a weapon against the Tigers, especially when Prince Fielder comes up in the late innings. Sergio Romo had a rough 2010 postseason, coughing up a lead that nearly led to a damaging loss at Atlanta. But hes had an entirely different look about him this time, while serving as the primary closer in the absence of Brian Wilson.
EDGE: Giants

OUTFIELD
The Tigers are used to playing in a spacious outfield, so you wouldnt think AT&T Park presents much of an issue. But theyre sticking DH Delmon Young in left field and planning to use Quintin Berry for late-inning defense. Center fielder Austin Jackson has a dangerous blend of speed and power. He hit .300 with 16 homers in the regular season and has a hit safely in eight of the Tigers nine postseason games in 2012. Right fielder and No.2 hitter Andy Dirks is a contact man who hit .322 in the regular season. Jackson and Dirks try to get pitchers in the stretch for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, which usually spells trouble.

The Giants best outfielder is not playing in this series. Melky Cabrera was suspended Aug. 15 for a positive testosterone test, and although he is now eligible to return, the club opted against adding him to the postseason roster. Left fielder Gregor Blanco is hitting .222 this postseason, but hes also drawn six walks in 28 plate appearances to help turn the lineup over while playing sensational defense. Center fielder Angel Pagan has been a defensive asset while showing some of the spark that helped him break Willie Mays franchise record for triples in a season. Right fielder Hunter Pence has made more contributions with his fiery speeches before the game than he has in the batters box, where hes hitting .194 with eight strikeouts. Its up to him to get Buster Posey pitches to hit, and he knows it.
EDGE: Giants

INFIELD
Cabrera and Fielder enough said. Detroit has two of the game's best hitters batting in the heart of their lineup. Cabrera became baseballs first Triple Crown winner since 1967. Fielder provides plenty of incentive to pitch to Cabrera, with his .310 average, 30 homers, and 108 RBI during the regular season. The two sluggers combined for 76 home runs in 2012, while the Giants entire roster combined for 103. The surprising key might be to avoid shortstop Jhonny Cabrera and attack Fielder, who is hitting .211 in the postseason. Peralta isn't nearly as imposing, but hes been a hot stick (.343) in the postseason.

Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval is brimming with confidence. He appears to be on every pitch while hitting .320 this postseason and one more home run will match Cody Rosss total of four from that magical postseason run in 2010. Sandoval was 10 for 25 in the Giants six elimination victories, too, so hes produced when the team most needed him. Brandon Belt, after a miserable NLDS, quietly posted a .925 OPS against the Cardinals and crushed a 98 mph fastball for a home run off Mitchell Boggs. Shortstop Brandon Crawford owns two of the clubs biggest go-ahead hits in the postseason, but its his solid defense at shortstop that has brought the most value. The star of the infield is the NLCS MVP, second baseman Marco Scutaro, who batted .500 against the Cardinals and had 14 hits to break Will Clarks franchise LCS record. Scutaro has a 10-game hitting streak in the postseason after finishing the regular season with a 20-game streak.
EDGE: Tigers

CATCHERS
The Tigers have Alex Avila and Gerald Laird behind the plate. On their best days they don't possess the talent that Buster Posey has. Avila hit .295 with 19 home runs as a rookie last year, but lost 50 points off his average and finished with just nine homers in his sophomore campaign. Hes a miserable .127 hitter over the past two postseasons.
Posey, the NL batting champ and Comeback Player of the Year, has lost some of his discipline in the postseason while pitchers declined to challenge him in hitters counts. He hit just .154 with one RBI in the NLCS; four of his six RBI this postseason came on his grand slam off Mat Latos in Cincinnati. But Posey also saved the Giants with his defense several times during both playoff series, and on a staff that struggles to hold runners, he has moderate success at nabbing potential base stealers. It will be hard to imagine the Giants hoisting a World Series trophy if they do not get more production from Poseys talented bat, though.
EDGE: Giants

OVERALL DEFENSE
The Tigers have subpar defense on the left side of the infield. They also routinely struggle to turn double plays and putting DH Delmon Young in left field wont help matters. Detroit's starting pitchers mitigates the defensive issues to some degree because they strikeout a lot of batters and induce a lot of fly balls. Their defensive inefficiencies might be magnified when Fister, a ground-ball pitcher, starts Game 2 and potentially Game 6.
The Giants regular-season fielding percentage masks one of the best defensive clubs in the majors. Even Scutaro, whose range is suspect, looked half his 36 years while sliding in shallow right field to make plays in the NLCS. It all starts with Crawford, who shook off a rough April and May to become the best all-around defender in the NL. Hell need to stay grounded in his first World Series. Although Sandoval is lighter on his feet than he looks, expect Joaquin Arias to enter as a defensive replacement at third base. Arias could start at third when the series shifts to Detroit, with Sandoval used as the DH. Or Hector Sanchezs switch-hitting bat could fill that spot.
EDGE: Giants

OVERALL OFFENSE
Although the Tigers and Giants scored nearly the same amount of runs during the regular season, they went about it in very different ways. The Tigers offense can be explosive, with Cabrera and Fielder capable of leaving the yard at any time. When theres so much focus on the heart of the lineup, its easy to overlook the Tigers complementary players. Peralta and Young, who has eight RBIs this postseason, are just as capable of a knockout punch.

The Giants are getting more production from the top of their lineup and the lower third than they are from the middle of the order this postseason. But they dont need Posey and Pence to hit 400-foot blasts to win. They are the fist team since the 1985 Cardinals to make the playoffs despite hitting the fewest homers in the major leagues, including just 31 in 81 games at AT&T Park. But when they get the line moving, they can be hard to stop.
EDGE: Tigers

MANAGERINTANGIBLES
Jim Leyland leads all active managers with 1,676 regular-season victories and players love his honest, no-nonsense approach. The 67-year-old chain smoker from Toledo never made it past Double-A as a catcher, but hes managing in his third World Series and won a championship in 1997 with the Florida Marlins following an intense, seven-game series with the Cleveland Indians. With the Tigers idled for five days off while they waited for the NLCS to play out, Leyland brought in prospects from instructional league to scrimmage with his team. His pitchers took plenty of fielding practice, too. Back in 2006, when they had a six-day layoff before the World Series, their pitchers fielded like their shoelaces were knotted together while losing to the Cardinals in five games.

Bruce Bochy stands just behind Leyland and Dusty Baker on the active list with 1,454 career victories and is also managing in his third World Series, after pushing all the right buttons to lead the Giants to a surprising championship in 2010. He also took the San Diego Padres to the World Series in 1998, when the Yankees swept them in four games. Bochy has won six NL West titles in his 18 seasons on the bench, but it isnt just his longevity that earns him the confidence of players. His adept use of the bullpen, his artful double-switches and his straightforward, honest approach allow players to buy into accepting decisions or roles that might otherwise dent their ego.

EDGE: Giants

OVERALL
Heres something to watch: The Tigers and Cardinals were the only teams to make the postseason with a losing road record (both 38-43 away from home). The Giants managed to skirt past the Cardinals by dominating the final two games at home, and thanks to Verlanders poor start in the All-Star Game, the Giants have home field advantage in the World Series.

On paper, Detroit is more intimidating. The postseason is usually about power, and the Tigers have so much more strikeout stuff in their rotation and more thump in their lineup. You know what they say about paper tigers, though.

PRATTS PICK: The crowd at AT&T Park will be electric and the Giants have all the momentum after clinging to their playoff lives while the Tigers took a cat nap. I wouldn't be surprised to see them stumble out of the gate even with Verlander on the hill in Game 1. I'll take the Tigers in six games, though.

BAGGS PICK: The Giants do so many little things right and they have tremendous energy at home. But so did the rollicking As, and the Tigers already ended Oakland's seemingly unstoppable surge. The Giants havent faced anyone with Justin Verlanders credentials, and as the As already learned, hes not someone you want to face in an elimination game. The Giants are a more well rounded team in many respects, and if they can make it a bullpen game, they'll have an edge. But Verlander is far and away the best player on the field and oh yeah, his teammate, Cabrera, won the Triple Crown. Did we mention you don't ever want to face Verlander in an elimination game? Tigers in five.

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

OAKLAND — With so much attention focused on who might be the next wave of A’s infielders coming up from the minors, Chad Pinder is making quite a statement in the present.

Pinder enjoyed another big day at the plate Sunday with a two-run homer and a double in the A’s 12-3 loss to Boston. That came on the heels of Saturday’s 460-foot home run that made him just the fifth player to reach the second deck just above the Coliseum’s first level of luxury suites.

For fans around the country who might have seen that mammoth blast on highlight shows, it likely was their first introduction to the 25-year-old Virginia native. However, those within the organization witnessed Pinder’s steady rise through the farm system since he was drafted as a sandwich pick between the second and third rounds of the 2013 draft out of Virginia Tech.

“I don’t think it’s a shock what he’s doing,” said A’s designated hitter Ryon Healy, who was part of that same draft class. “I think he’s always been that caliber of player. He’s always had that potential and it’s coming to fruition right now and it’s really fun to watch.”

Pinder, who made his big league debut in September but began this season with Triple-A Nashville, is hitting .286 over 21 games with Oakland. He’s homered in four of his past eight, and he provided a boost over the weekend as the A’s took three of four from the Red Sox.

The right-handed hitting Pinder was in the lineup all four games — with the Red Sox starting lefties on the mound for the final three contests, the A’s stacked their lineup with righties, giving Pinder a stretch of consistent playing time.

He’s provided enough of a spark that he warrants consideration to remain in the lineup even though the A’s are scheduled to face right-handers during their two-game series with the Miami Marlins that begins Tuesday at the Coliseum.

Granted, it’s not the biggest sample size either way, but Pinder is actually hitting better against righties (.348, 8-for-23) than he is against lefties (.231, 6-for-26). Four of his five home runs also have come against right-handers.

Asked whether Pinder could draw more starts against right-handers, A’s manager Bob Melvin replied: “Potentially, yeah. You want to try to stay consistent with the lineups you have, but if you have a hot hand, you look for ways to get him in there.”

Working in Pinder’s advantage is the versatility he’s shown since being recalled from Nashville on April 16. The A’s always knew Pinder could handle second, shortstop or third as needed, but he’s also shown to be a capable option in right field with a strong arm for the outfield.

Pinder was the Texas League (Double-A) Player of the Year in 2015 and ranked No. 7 on Baseball America’s preseason list of A’s prospects. He’s making the most of his time in the majors.

On the minds of many Oakland fans is when a couple more infield prospects who are impressing at Triple-A — middle infielder Franklin Barreto and third baseman Matt Chapman — might get their first crack in the bigs.

Barreto, ranked as the No. 25 overall prospect in the majors in Baseball America’s most recent ratings, is hitting .311 with six homers and is tied with Matt Olson for Nashville’s RBI lead at 27. Chapman, ranked the 95th overall prospect, missed two weeks earlier this season with a wrist injury but has shown signs of heating up offensively. He’s hitting just .237 but has eight homers and 15 RBI.

Two other Nashville players, who have both seen time with the A’s, are putting up noteworthy numbers: Olson, a first baseman/outfielder, is hitting .276 with 10 homers and 27 RBI, and corner infielder/outfielder Renato Nunez is tied for the Pacific Coast League lead with 12 homers to go with a .245 average and 25 RBI.

The A’s are working with Barreto and Chapman to hone their approach at the plate and control the strike zone. General manager David Forst maintains the A’s will be patient with both, noting that Pinder benefited last year from a full season at Triple-A before his promotion.

“The calendar needs to turn over,” Forst said. “They need at-bats. Matt missed a couple weeks with the injury, but they just need more days and more at-bats. We don’t have an ‘X’ on the calendar anywhere where this is the day. We’ll know when it’s time.”

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

OAKLAND — The A’s officially welcomed John Axford back into their bullpen fold Sunday, and they got some encouraging news about another reliever.

Sean Doolittle was expected to only throw a flat-ground session before the series finale against Boston, but he wound up throwing 15 pitches off the mound as well. That’s the first time Doolittle has thrown from the mound since joining the disabled list May 3 with a strained left shoulder. Next up is a 25-pitch session off the mound Wednesday.

The early indications are that Doolittle’s current shoulder woes aren’t as severe as the ailments that sidelined him for major portions of the past two seasons.

Axford was reinstated from the 10-day DL Saturday for his own shoulder strain, but his season debut came Sunday, when he handled the eighth inning and allowed one run. He was sidelined during the season-opening series against the Angels when he hurt his shoulder while warming up in the bullpen.

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All indications are that first baseman Yonder Alonso will be available to return to the lineup Tuesday for the opener of a two-game interleague series against the Miami Marlins. A’s manager Bob Melvin said before Sunday’s game that he considered Alonso as potentially being available off the bench. Given the A’s are off Monday, it’s reasonable to assume Alonso will be ready Tuesday when the Marlins start right-hander Jose Urena on the mound.

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The A’s are plenty familiar with Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland from his days with division rival Texas. But Moreland continues to do damage against Oakland even though he’s out of the AL West. Moreland’s two-run homer in the sixth off Andrew Triggs marked his third homer of the four-game series, and his 19th homer in 80 career games against the A’s. That’s his most homers against any major league club.

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The run Axford allowed in the eighth snapped a streak of 27 scoreless innings at home by the A’s bullpen. Josh Smith allowed five runs in the ninth.